Cake with the Twirl Bites

Some time back in August, Ellie, Zuza and I (Carina) decided to do the  Explorer Belt Award – a ten day hike in a foreign country. As the planning got going, we realised something pretty big: we were going to have to finance this trip somehow… cue the fundraising!

Our plan was to hold a cake sale on the street and see what we could make. Having all rushed home from school on Friday to mass-produce baked goods, we turned up this morning at Crouch End clutching bags of cake-filled tupperware and lugging a folding table. We soon found out we’d missed something pretty key: this weekend was the launch of the Crouch End Festival, the UK’s largest community arts festival. While this would mean plenty of customers, we weren’t sure how the organisers would react to us encroaching on their turf! A quick chat and a wave of a Scout scarf later, and everything was sorted: so long as we kept out the way of the WI, we could stay.

We quickly got set up by the bus stop – always good for potential customers – and lay out our wares. Ranging from stacks of lemon curd muffins and exotic raspberry cupcakes to cheerful gingerbread men and super-gooey brownies, we definitely had something for everyone – or we would have had, if there weren’t so many people that insisted on sticking to their diets!

Trade quickly picked up as the streets got more and more busy. Wary of appearing like a stereotypical phone-obsessed teenager, I hid behind the table to publicise our cake sale on the WWESU social media. As normal, we got the usual amount of questions about who exactly we were – Brownies? Girl Guides? Nope, Explorer Scouts.

We also witnessed the repeated struggle between parent and child as to whether cake would be bought or not, which usually takes the form of:

Us: Would you like to buy some cake?

Parent: No, thanks.

Child: YES. YES. CAKE. YES. (until parent reluctantly gives in)

Pretty soon we were running out of stock. The sun, which until then had been hiding behind a conveniently placed tree, now chose to make an appearance. We watched in dismay as Ellie’s beautiful raspberry buttercream melted into bright pink sludge, leading to the solemn sacrifice of two cupcakes to the bin (luckily most of them had been sold by then). Several gingerbread men had lost limbs as a result of tragic accidents, so also had to be sacrificed – although this time to a much worthier cause: the tireless Explorers behind the stall!

At around 2pm, four hours after we started, we decided to call it a day as our once highly aesthetic stall had diminished with each sale, until only two muffins were left – a much less inviting display. Trying not to look too shifty, we quickly counted our takings and concluded that we had made a respectable profit, which would go a long way towards financing our expedition in the summer!

– Carina

To stay up-to-date on how our Explorer Belt is getting on, follow Wild Wolf on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and keep an eye out for #twirlbitesontour!

29 Hours on the Isle of Wight

This summer, two teams of our plucky Explorers will be taking on the Explorer Belt Award, hiking for 10 days through Germany. In order to prep themselves for the oncoming challenge, one team decided to take on the dangerous fields of the Isle of Wight. Armed with only their rucksacks and a Nights Away Passport, team ‘Ellie & the Twirl Bites’ boarded an 8:30am train from Waterloo, and left civilisation behind…As the ferry docked we felt giddy with excitement at the thought of being more than two hours away from our legal guardians. That was quickly brushed aside as the true enormity of our plan hit us. Our trek started with a scenic walk along the pebbly beaches of Yarmouth, heading west towards the Needles. Soon enough the cerulean blue of the Solent was left behind as we headed through a forest. After a brief flirt with a wooden statue we carried on our treacherous route until we reached the wreckage of a path, where erosional processes had led to the untimely demise of a section of path that we desperately needed. Luckily this had been in 2012, so a new path had since been created. We came to the realisation that we were navigating by a pier that existed on the map, but not in real life, meaning that in fact we were further than we had thought! Turning left, we headed up the winding road to eventually meet our campsite. Once arrived we checked in, receiving the locals’ now familiar questioning of our sanity for undertaking this journey. Within minutes we had our tent pitched and were heading back to a shop we had seen earlier to gather supplies. After much debate, and a demand for protein and vegetables, our dinner menu was sorted: pasta and tomato sauce with tuna and tinned carrots (not as weird as it sounds, actually). Ice cream was, of course, a necessity, as was hot chocolate. Rations for the next day were bought and we left the shop with a dry bag full of food and the ice creams already in our hands, ready to be gobbled down by ravenous mouths. Once we returned to our campsite, we were exhausted after our hard day of hiking, and so had a nap in the sun – not unlike a cat might. However, for Zuza this nap resulted in some interesting tan lines from her hiking socks!

By the time 5 o’clock rolled around, it was the general consensus that it was time for dinner, and so, with stoves put expertly together, our massive bag of pasta was cooked, before being mixed with the tomato sauce, tuna and carrots. Once the vast amount of food had been consumed, we washed up and put everything away, then decided to head down the long and winding road to the Needles, where we would watch the sunset and take aesthetic photos. It turned out that we severely overestimated the distance we had to walk, and it only took us half an hour. By the time we got to the geographical beauty that is the Isle of Wight’s Alum Bay, the associated tourist areas were a deserted wasteland, full of nothing but the pounding sun and the blasting wind. After realising we were three hours early for the magnificent sunset we anticipated, we decided to head off down the path towards the westernmost tip of the island, where the Needles themselves were located. If you weren’t aware of some of the geographical wonders of the coasts of the Isle of Wight, let me enlighten you. The sheer chalk cliffs allow for the formation of what are known as stacks and stumps. These are formed through many complex processes, but if we’re going back to the basics they are just bits of rock that are sticking out of the ocean (which are pretty cool if you’re a geography student!).The path that led down to the Needles was an estimated 20 minute walk, as we learnt from the nice National Trust sign at the beginning of the path. These 20 minutes were spent enjoying the geology of the local landscape – well, that’s what happened for me and Carina, Zuza just called us geography nerds and looked disappointed. When we reached the Needles we took many photos and panoramas of the stunning view, before walking back incredibly slowly to the viewpoint at Alum Bay, which would be the best place from which to see the sunset. Two hours passed, in which we danced, sang and froze in the howling wind. Time lapses were attempted and failed, before we got to 9:06pm, which (according to multiple weather apps) was when the sun was supposed to set. Instead of descending in a glorious array of colours, however, the sun went behind a cloud. We decided to head back to camp with high spirits ready for the next day.At 7am a whole chorus of alarms went off, jerking us out of our slumber and on to the day ahead. We started with packing everything back into our rucksacks, before enjoying a breakfast of numerous chocolate brioches and hot chocolate. After packing the tent down we went off on our way, saying cheery goodbyes to our fellow campers and the owners of the campsite. It was with joy in our hearts that we set off that sunny morning, heading up the first hill of the day. At the top of this treacherous hill sat Tennyson’s Monument, with stunning panoramic views of the whole of the Isle of Wight. Once much water had been drunk, we set off again in the scorching heat heading downhill to Freshwater Bay. Here Carina and I nerded out some more about the geography (stacks and stumps!) before the trio carried on, going north this time, and experiencing some of the majestic fields of the island. Soon signs pointing toward the final destination of Yarmouth appeared, with gradually decreasing distances, which lead to the realisation that we were moving quicker than expected (yes, again). This meant that we soon rounded a corner only to find that we had reached the road we started at the day before, completing our planned circular route.

It was quickly agreed that lunch was a good idea, and we enjoyed a feast of salami wraps and twirl bites, sitting on the edge of the water with hiking boots and socks removed – always a great feeling!. This, of course, escalated to a small amount of paddling in the cool sea, before lazing around on the promenade waiting for the ferry for which we were 5 hours too early (better early than late, right?).

As Carina neared the end of her book that had so far survived the journey, we thought the time was right for a lovely cream tea in the sun, so we once again hoisted our rucksacks onto our backs, winced as we did up the waist straps and headed back into Yarmouth in search of a cream tea near the sea. It didn’t take long to find, and we managed to negotiate the tearoom without causing any serious injuries with our massive bags, quickly getting down to enjoying our scones. Once these were finished, we completed our expedition with the short walk back to the ferry terminal where it all began.

– Ellie

Watch this space for the upcoming video of our exploits on the Isle of Wight, and for more details of our main expedition this summer!

A Wild Weekend

Wales, wild camping, and walking? Sounds like a great way to spend a few days, as some of our Explorers found out this weekend…

The trip began with a long drive and, as is camp tradition, the whole bus joined in singing along to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. However, apparently arriving at nearly midnight doesn’t warrant access to the main campsite, so we were confined to the late arrival area beside the river. After a short stargazing session, we all happily headed off to bed.

We arose the next morning and, stubbornly ignoring the grey overcast sky, our spirits were high. After eating an assortment of pastries and freshly baked baguettes (yum), we were on our way.

We started our hike by leaving Beddgelert on a relatively flat path that took us by a few of the beautiful surrounding Welsh lakes, but before long we found ourselves trekking uphill through patches of bog disguised as grass. However this gave us the perfect opportunity to practice our micro navigation (and to learn the valuable lesson that field boundaries and footpaths are not always correctly marked on the map!) A few kilometres and a carb loading session later – also known as lunch – we reached a ‘Grand Designs-esque’ farmhouse where we split into two groups…

For our group’s route, we each led for a leg to developed our navigation skills. Max led the way first, paving a route though open fields, bogs and streams, following a path which didn’t seem to physically exist. At one point on the hike, Ned got a little thirsty, and, rather than using his water bottle like a normal person, decided to kneel down and use the stream. Purely ‘accidentally’, some well placed boots from the group left him helpless on his backpack, limbs flailing like a beetle.

Continuing our hike, we passed the lovely Llyn Llagl and quickly summited Craig Llyn-Llagl. Whilst we admired the small lake on the summit, Ned endeavoured to jump onto a little island. Not one to think things through, with a running jump he made it, only to realise this would not work on the way back, as there was no room for a runway. With a walking pole crane having extracted his boots from danger, he made the leap. Teenage hormones pumping, he reached the shore, but quickly slipped off, in the the water. After a quick change we continued to our wild camping spot by a lake.

– Lawrence

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Our group’s adventure was slightly more civilised. Leaving the other group behind we put our micro navigation to the test as we attempted to stay on the correct bearing in order to get to the meeting point. Some non existent field boundaries and ambiguous paths later, we took in the astounding view of Llyn Llagi and wondered about the upcoming evening over a snack of sugar in several forms. Beating the other group to the Llynnau’r Cwn (the meeting point) we decided to scope out all of the potential campsites, eventually deciding on one with a sea view and, most importantly, phone signal.

– Megan

We pitched our tents and most of us spent the following hours cooking dinner and playing newly-invented survival shelter rugby. While washing up in the lake nearby, Will discovered a strange, glow in the dark, jelly-like alien species; soon named the donutus extraterrestrialis. Esme, however, managed to sleep through all this excitement and finally awoke from her nap to find that the rest of us had decided to get an early night.

The next morning we were woken up at the ungodly hour of 5:30am, making us all extremely thankful for getting that early night. After striking camp, we set off into the hills looking forward to another day of exploring the Snowdonian landscape. Making the peak of Cnicht just before nine o’clock, we had made good time and so rewarded ourselves with Skittles and other sugary snacks before planning our descent.

Skree, woods and bog failed to halt us as we crashed through the undergrowth down into the valley, where we gratefully sank into a wooded clearing full of bluebells for lunch.

At Wild Wolf, houmous is an extremely important part of lunch – no, life. However, the pronunciation of the word has become a very controversial issue… hoo • mus, hum• mus and huh • mus were all suggested pronunciations but even relentless debating could not sway anyone’s position.

We then set off on the last leg of our hillwalking experience, keeping an eye out for a good swimming spot as we went.

Plunging into the cool depths of the Afon Glasyn cleansed and refreshed us, ready for the journey home. No one was looking forward to another five hours in the minibus; especially when those five hours counted down to the end of another, quite literally, wild and wonderful trip.

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Watersports & Wales: Easter Camp 2017

Easter Eggs? Check. Excited Explorers? Check. Exhilarating experiences? Check. It must be Easter Camp!

On Thursday 13th April, several minibuses packed full of Explorers and their assorted kit headed up to St Brides on Wales’ Pembrokeshire coast for an unforgettable Easter Camp.

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How about that for a campsite?

Friday morning started early for our Explorers; the agenda today, a 20(ish)km hike. After a bustle of packing day bags we were set to go. Our group consisted of Amy, Ellie, Tilly, Max, Michal and me (Emily). Today’s incident hike consisted of a series of challenges at each checkpoint. At the first checkpoint we were challenged to lift an empty bucket with two ropes from a few metres away, a challenge for which we planned the technique out, but executed poorly! Sadly, at our first checkpoint we lost one of our members – and then there were 5. Our second checkpoint was slightly further away, and thanks to my observant nature (apparently) we spotted an arrow composed of rocks pointing ‘Wild Wolf’ in a direction down to the beach. This challenge was to cook a meal, so we made poached eggs using the tasty saltwater, beans, tomatoes, and buttered bread – a task we performed particularly well at, deciding to hide the remaining cans of beans to provide an extra challenge for the other teams passing by the checkpoint. [Whilst we were at this checkpoint nibbling at our lunch, the PL group had got to the same point. A couple of our cheeky team members decided to hide a lovely rock collection in one of their bags. After which we quickly scampered off, intrigued throughout the rest of the walk by if they had noticed or not.] Our third checkpoint tested us to put up a tent with some of our members blindfolded. Somehow whilst feeling the floor for a pole Michal managed to find some lovely excrement on the floor. On our journey to Checkpoint 4, we strolled along an abandoned airfield and attempted to gradually make spherical shaped rocks by throwing them continuously (a great time consumer!). At the beach we were greeted by Neall and Tom with a mini orienteering challenge and a quiz (involving a slight disagreement about a postbox). After that, on the final stretch back to camp we spotted many pinecones, a shoe, a bucket, and a bull in a field, which we tried to avoid. When we got back we were proud to have accomplished yet another hike.

– Emily

Full speed ahead!

On Saturday, we were given the chance to get stuck in with some watersports, either going surfing or canoeing on the River Cleddau.

After a nauseating ride down the twisting Welsh country lanes, we arrived at a bleak and empty car park by the sea. Many of us were grateful to be off the bus and as we were wearing swimming attire under our clothing (#beprepared!), there was no need to change in the cold. Fortunately there wasn’t much standing around and soon we were kitted out in full winter wetsuits from head to toe. Down at the beach, following some safety briefs, we were all in the water and despite the calm weather, everyone was throwing themselves into the surfing. Within just a few hours we were catching waves (ish) and some people even managed to stand on two feet… before collapsing spectacularly into the sea. However, if you have ever surfed, you’ll know it’s tiring work and some *cough Ned cough* decided to take a more relaxed approach and repurposed their boards into lilos. While not all of us became master surfers before lunchtime, we could not have embraced the surfer attitude with more enthusiasm and we definitely got ‘surfing hair’. Over the course of the day, I learnt that surfing is a lot harder than it looks, and to those leaders who claimed to have ‘not seen much surfing’, I can’t wait to see you try! It is safe to say we all had a great time and were reluctant to peel off our gear the end of the session. Thanks again, Dragon Activities!

– Esme

It was a beautiful day for some canoeing

Sunday saw us take to the seas in a fleet of kayaks, having a great time paddling through some amazing scenery.

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We explored some natural sea caves, and only had a few capsizes!

On Monday morning we had a disgustingly early start. We had to be, up, out and ready as normal for 8 am, but today we also had to pack down tents and the whole campsite before that time! However, we all managed fine and in typical Wild Wolf fashion we were ready for anything; and by anything, we mean jumping off 10 metre high cliffs into the sea! We drove to St Brides Bay and met up with our coasteering instructors. We quickly got kitted out in full gear (including wetsuit socks and hats!) and made our way down the ever-beautiful coastal paths to where we were to start. Coasteering isn’t just about jumping off of cliffs though, it involves traversing the cliffs; getting across gorges and gaps in the rocks; climbing up, down and around the rocks and swimming in the sea, as well as the cliff jumping. As you can imagine, however, the main highlights were of course hurling ourselves off cliffs into the freezing cold sea. We jumped off rocks that were everywhere between 1m and 9m above the sea, into calm sheltered pools and choppy bits of ocean, and it was absolutely brilliant. This was the first time Wild Wolf have done coasteering, but it definitely won’t be the last!

– Ben

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An experience not to be forgtten!

After going coasteering, we sadly had to head back to London, but we returned home with fond memories of an amazing weekend.

4* Open Canoe Training

This adventurous Open Canoeing weekend started with a tour around London in order to collect various people and kit. The long drive to Llangollen seemed to take forever, and most of us were on our last legs when we arrived at the campsite just after 1am. Unfortunately for some, we were due to be up bright and early in the morning, in order to start our training. For Phil, who was doing his 4 Star Open Canoe Training with several other Leaders from around London, this weekend was spent under the tutelage of the famous Ray Goodwin, who has quite literally written the book on canoeing.

First thing on Saturday morning we drove to Bala Lake and split off into two groups led by Marlon and Ray. The morning was spent paddling up against the wind, and after a challenging journey up one side of the lake there was an opportunity to practise poling: a form of canoeing in shallow water using a long metal pole. Some stopped for lunch a little wetter than they had been originally, but with renewed energy we made our way down the lake to practise towing and tracking boats. The wind had died down completely by this point, meaning that the surface of the lake was glass-like and silent as we paddled back towards the start point.

Before we could get warm and dry however, Marlon insisted the Explorers developed their support strokes (lots of splashing) and rescue skills by attempting a swamped rescue, where all the boats have capsized at the same time. With numb fingers and dripping clothes, the boats were finally loaded onto the trailer and we headed back to the campsite, where the promise of hot showers and dinner lay in wait.

The bulk of the evening was spent playing ‘we didn’t playtest this at all’, a game that has not been play tested. It was an instant hit with all involved and needless to say it will be coming to Explorers very soon. All went to bed in anticipation of another immersive day of paddling, with a vain hope that the weather would be nicer than it had been so far.

By 8.30am on Sunday morning, camp was struck, the minibus was packed and ready to go. We drove down to the River Dee, where we spent our day paddling Grade 1&2 rapids in the midst of the beautiful, and surprisingly sunny, Welsh countryside. With so many new techniques to learn and a new environment to adapt to, the beginning of the morning felt a little alien. However, everyone gained confidence in leaps and bounds, finishing the day at Horseshoe Falls, a disused weir.

Everyone had stayed dry throughout the day and spirits were high as we loaded the trailer and headed back to London. A good time was had by all and everyone came away with some new skills they could use to work towards gaining their 4* certificates.

– Megan

Banff Mountain Film Festival 2017

Skiing, trail running, extreme kayaking… no, this wasn’t what we spent our evening doing, unfortunately. However, we did get to see some amazing films of these activities done on a crazy scale, which is pretty much the next best thing, right?

The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival takes place in Canada every November, and then the very best of the submitted films are chosen to go on a global tour. This week they were in London, and on Wednesday the Unit was lucky enough to go to the event for the second year. Featuring six films taking place all over the world, the evening was a true expression of what makes outdoor adventure so great!

We could rave about these incredible films for hours, but instead we’ve picked a few of the highlights…

Perhaps one of the most hard-hitting films was ‘Doing It Scared’, the story of climber Paul Pritchard, who returned to the site of an accident that had left him partially paralysed 18 years earlier, to complete the climb. Putting our little climbing wall at Scout Park to shame, Tasmania’s ‘Totem Pole’ is a 60m tower of rock, rising dramatically out of the sea. Paul’s inspiring attitude and determination enabled him to reach the top of the climb, proving without doubt his point that “disabled people are not unable. It’s society that is disabled around them.”

Another film that saw people venturing to dizzying heights was ‘La Liste’. The film documents Jérémie Heitz’s attempt to ski 15 of the most spectacular mountains in the Alps. With the majority of the mountains reaching over 4,000m, combined with gradients of 50-55 degrees, the footage had some members of the Unit peeking through their fingers in a combination of terror and awe. Jérémie reinvents the freeriding style, completing hair-raising descents in a matter of minutes, while the original descents would have taken hours. It’s certainly an important reminder of what can be achieved when you really put your mind to it!

From the summit of towering heights, to the bottom – ‘Locked In’ tells the story of a group of kayakers as they attempt a first descent of Papua New Guinea’s Beriman River, a stretch of water imprisoned on either side by sheer faces of rock, meaning that once you’re in, there’s no getting out! We watched in amazement as they navigated the almost continuous rapids along the river, and portaged their kayaks up steep cliffs and through forest in order to bypass some of the unrunnable gorges. In contrast, our Duke of Edinburgh expeditions on the River Wye seem pretty tame!

As Wednesday was International Women’s Day, it seems particularly apt to celebrate the achievements of Mira Rai, one of the world’s top trail runners, with the film ‘Mira’. The film illustrates her journey from growing up in a Nepalese mountain village, to competing in renowned competitions all over the world. It culminates in her incredible 110km run across the Spanish Pyrenees, achieving the position of second place in the 2015 Skyrunning World Championships, despite it only being her first year of international racing. If that’s not inspirational, then I don’t know what is.

The event showcased some truly incredible films, and we left with heads full of thrilling adventures from all over the world, and a burning desire to get out there and take on our own adventures – which, after all, is what Banff is all about!

Mayhem on the River Medway

At 7am last Saturday morning, several intrepid Explorers and Leaders left Scout Park. The minibus was laden with canoes, strapped to every possible surface and stacked on top of each other, until the bus resembled little more than a moving pile of canoes. Having arrived at the River Medway put in, we prepared our lunch (think Nutella and barbeque sauce wraps) before beginning our paddle, in a mixed fleet of kayaks and canoes, down the river.

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We enjoyed the exhilarating thrill of sliding very slowly down a canoe chute, worked our cores on the locks, and unintentionally visited many trees hanging over the river (damn J-strokes!). We stopped for lunch at midday by a lock, and explored some of the pillboxes we saw so frequently on our travels. We sheltered from the wind to eat our lunch, and tried to get Ben’s shoes into the canoe chute. Ned and Michal risked expulsion from the Unit for stealing the holy snack barrel, and suffered the wrath of Marlon, the snack monster.

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We continued our journey, until, having paddled about 20km in 8 hours, we pulled our canoes and kayaks out of the water at a small riverside camping spot. We quickly set up camp, spent far too long deliberating how to put up a tarp, then got on preparing dinner on our trangias. Having eaten, we sat and dried off around an impressive bonfire, trying to find the sweet spot between having warm dry shoes and a puddle of plastic on the floor. We also enjoyed Ned being covered in river water by Ross, as punishment for filling Ross’ barrel with water and putting his shoes in it. (The supreme maturity and experience of our Unit was clearly demonstrated…)

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The next day we ate a quick breakfast, packed up camp and got back on the water in new pairs. In an impressive show of nautical prowess, Ben capsized twice in his kayak, and Ned and Michal at least once. We ate lunch ft. impromptu cheese from Marlon, before continuing our paddle. We also took care to develop some key skills; many members of the Unit can now analyse in depth the pros and cons of different boat names. Now that’s something they don’t teach you in school!

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At the end of our last 20km day, having greatly improved our steering skills, we pulled up and cleaned our canoes, before loading them back onto the minibus.

It was an extremely enjoyable trip which will prepare us very well for our canoeing DofEs this summer. Thanks to all the leaders, from both WWESU and other Units, as well as those who lent us boats, for making the trip possible!

– Lawrence

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The Southern 50 Challenge 2017

What’s a Scout’s favourite topic of conversation? Well, I’m sure it depends on the Unit, but at Wild Wolf ESU it’s not uncommon to hear Explorers comparing the merits of different Goretex waterproofs, or planning a DofE expedition by sail, or finalising the details of an Explorer Belt hike in Germany. One thing’s for certain though, while undertaking the Southern 50 Challenge, you end up walking for enough time to discuss just about anything and everything!

A competitive hike of 30km, 50km, or 50miles, and completed in under 24 hours, the Southern 50 is now in its 38th year, and as usual, Wild Wolf was proudly represented! This year we had two 30km teams and one 50km team entering.

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The snowy conditions promised an interesting experience for the hikers!

The weekend started just like any other camp, with a mix of Explorers and kit bundled in the back of a minibus on a Friday evening. After a short drive we reached our destination: a school in Tring in the Chiltern Hills. Having arrived early, we had the luxury of being the first teams to check in, managing to get ahead of the queues of hoards of Scouts, both young and old, gathering for this annual competition. After that, all that remained to do was claim our corner of the school hall to sleep in, surprise Marlon with some belated birthday cake, and head to bed!

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Happy belated birthday Marlon!

The next day started early, with a cacophony of alarms going off at around 4:30. Soon, we accepted the inevitable and crawled out of our sleeping bags, reluctant to relinquish the much-needed warmth (a situation that I’m sure any Scout could relate to…). With varying degrees of speed, we packed up our kit and waved goodbye to Leah, Megan and Esme as they headed off for their early 50km start. Once we had had breakfast, and made it through kit check (a process that produces stress along the same lines as going through airport security), the two 30km teams were driven to the start point. ‘ENTHUSIASM!’ we reminded each other as we climbed out of the minibus and pulled on the necessary waterproofs. After that, we were off!

This year, WWESU had also offered to run a checkpoint along the route, providing good food, good music and good cheer to those people crazy enough to undertake hiking across the snowy Chiltern Hills in freezing February.

“Our checkpoint was easily identifiable by the enthusiastic singing and screams of ‘Legs!’ every time a group of hikers emerged from the snowy distance. Set up by around 10am, we soon realised that it was blooming freezing. Aided by an ungodly number of layers and Dan’s camp blanket, we quickly formed a collective snuggle religiously surrounding the single tiny laptop that the organisers had entrusted us with. The new tech was très exciting – shout out to Steve and Alan – and only went wrong twice! Although it was a long day, replete with lies such as ‘It’s pretty straightforward from here’, it was extremely rewarding providing a continuous supply of sugar to all the walkers who passed through Checkpoint 16.”

– Lily (along with Rosie, Emily, Nat, Amy, Will, Dan and Marlon at CP16)

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A warm welcome was given to all at Checkpoint 16

While those at the checkpoint were giving out handfuls of Haribos and cutting up a year’s supply of swiss roll, one of our 30km teams was dashing across the hills in an attempt to claim the 30km trophy:

“‘We’re running the 30km’. It’s a very easy thing to say, but, as we learnt, not so easy to do. After hurriedly posing a photo at the start, we hoisted our trendy bum bags onto our hips, before enthusiastically running off, sure we could keep up the pace. Three minutes later, we were puffed out and had to slow to a power walk. For the rest of the 30km we rushed through checkpoints, hardly pausing whilst we grabbed as much sugary food as could be held in one hand, enjoyed the comforting blip of the tracker, and attempted to shake the number of hikers on our trail. A warm, hyper welcome from our friends at the great Checkpoint 16 roused our spirits, as we stormed towards the final checkpoints, sliding with dogged determination through the mud. Constant snowfall created a Narnia-esque feel, actually improving our shoes’ grips. Having gone from being the last team to start, to having overtaken every other team, we became the first group to arrive back at the school. On our arrival we enjoyed the warm showers, before being driven out to join the group at Checkpoint 16, to cheer through the upcoming 50km and 50mile teams. That night we waited with bated breath to hear the final timings of the competition, eventually confirming that we had won the title in a time of 5 hours and 1 minute!”

– Lawrence (with his teammates Thomas and Max)

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A huge well done to Wild Wolf team ‘Are we there yet?’ for coming first in the 30km event!

Although impressed by this display of energy, our other 30km team decided to make their way across the Chilterns at a more sedate pace:

“For our team ‘Ellie and the Twirl Bites’, the 30km was slightly more chill, with us maintaining a steady(ish) pace throughout the whole day. We managed to get to our first checkpoint, Checkpoint 11, pretty quickly, which we were impressed with, before taking a scenic detour (yes, of course it was intentional…) through an extremely pretty forest, where the snow created a winter wonderland, prompting the singing of a few Christmas songs. When we made it back onto the main route again we carried on, with Carina’s sudden competitive spirit urging us on from one checkpoint to the next, overtaking a few groups as we did so. At Checkpoint 13 we opened some good ol’ fashioned Twirl Bites chocolate (although we only got round to eating half of them – shocking!). Before long we made it to the WWESU checkpoint, where we were greeted with songs and smiles, as well as cake and Haribos. Sadly, we soon left, eager to reach our target time of 8 hours. This, however, was when we encountered the second forest. There were so many paths. So many. As the vague direction of our next checkpoint was west, we kept going that way. And kept going west. And still west. Fortunately, we were eventually able to clamber down a steep hill and reach a point pretty near to where we were meant to be. The feeling of relief at finding ourselves out of the forest was amazing. Back on the road, we picked up the pace to make up for lost time, and powered through Checkpoints 17 and 18, and then, after a ridiculously long road, finally made it back to the school, where we decided it was time for a well-earned nap.”

– Ellie (along with her team of Carina and Zuzanna)

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Team ‘Ellie and the Twirl Bites’ came 10th in the 30km hike, with a time of 8 hours 12 minutes

Meanwhile, our admirable 50km team were pushing onwards through the Chilterns, indulging in rounds of campfire songs and bags of dried apple rings to keep spirits up:

“After a nice and early start, the three of us set off into the dark, fully waterproofed and raring to go. We set a good pace for ourselves and managed to reach Checkpoints 1,2,3 and 4 without any problems. However, the same cannot be said for Checkpoint 5. A more-than-slight detour meant we ended up back at a junction we could’ve sworn we’d passed previously, and discovered the ‘invisible church’ as Esme has now named it (there was no church).

Despite us taking a few ‘scenic routes’ along the way, our team managed to reach the checkpoints relatively easily and were glad for the warm welcome awaiting us at each, especially WWESU-hosted Checkpoint 16! After many hours of walking in both daylight and the dark we finally made it to the finish, heading to the canteen after debating the really hard choice between food and sleep.”

– Leah (with teammates Esme and Megan)

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After their early morning start, the ‘Red Hot Chilli Hikers’ completed the 50km in a time of 17 hours 13 minutes

The next day, Sunday, consisted of perfectly executed ‘Southern 50 shuffle’, some classic Fozzy jokes, and of course the presentation of the all-important trophies.

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The Southern  50 sees people from across multiple counties gathering together in a true show of Scouting fellowship

Once all the certificates had been handed out, our kit put back in the van, and our bin bags of ridiculously muddy boots collected, it was time to head home, from what has been a tiring, yet immensely rewarding, weekend.

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Huge thanks to all the organisers and support staff that make such an amazing event happen. and a big well done to everyone that took part!

WWESU in Yorkshire: Winter Camp 2017

Nestled at the foot of Pen y Ghent, one of Yorkshire’s Three Peaks, Halton Gill was the setting for the 2012 remake of ‘The Woman in Black’. Thankfully, however, the hostel where we spent the past weekend seemed to be relatively ghost-free. Last Friday evening we set off from Scout Park for the long drive up there, for a weekend of exploration in the Yorkshire Dales. True to the Scout Law (“A Scout makes good use of time…”) we spent the journey engaged in worthy and intellectual pursuits, whether that was constructing a speech on gender identity, writing an essay on gothic literature, or sewing recently earned badges onto shirts. The rapidly growing darkness presented little problem, as we simply produced headtorches and continued (“Be Prepared”, right?). Approximately six hours later we pulled up outside our destination – a hostel quickly identified as ‘one of the classiest we’ve ever been to’ by Marlon. The presence of a drying room, pool table, and – I kid you not – a sauna, quickly confirmed this fact.

The Patrol Leaders helped to plan the hikes for Saturday

The next day we arose bright and early (well, ‘early’ at least. The ever-present fog quickly disputed the ‘bright’ element.) After a full English breakfast we headed off into the hills! We were split up into different groups, each attempting to summit one of the Three Peaks. Some of the Explorers have shared their experiences of the hikes:

“We had a totally spiffing time – the rain, hail and snow just added to the all round joyous atmosphere. The highlight was the luminous orange survival shelter that we luncheoned in, complete with Michelin star standard ham rolls (courtesy of us in the Whales Patrol…). We hiked for what seemed like twice round the hill, although with the shockingly poor visibility our sense of direction left a lot to be desired. However, despite contradictory appearances, it was my favourite hike to date.”

– Amy, whose team hiked up Ingleborough

Amy’s team on top of Ingleborough

“Today on our hike we had a great adventure. Not only did we do 20km instead of 14km, we also got very cold! It all started when we were heading down from Pen y Ghent with quite poor visibility and quite bad weather. Yep, you guessed it – we got lost. We got to a turning… and went 5km in the wrong direction. Someone (Nick, we’re looking at you…) said that we had to go to a further junction, when in reality we had missed the junction already! It was a very chilly experience, but despite that we still had a lot of fun.”

– Ned, whose team hiked up Pen y Ghent… and then hiked some more… and some more…

The great scenery provided welcome distraction from the cold weather!

Once we returned, our numbness turning to shivers, we had time for a quick try out of the sauna, before launching into our Burns’ Night celebration (yes, a bit late, we know…). It also happened to be Ellie’s 17th birthday, so she’s recounted the evening below:

“In celebration of Burns’ Night and our upcoming Summer Camp in Scotland, we dined on traditional haggis with neeps and tatties, as well as having a ceilidh. As always, we executed the different Scottish dances with typical WWESU enthusiasm, even if we had no idea what the dances were meant to look like. Dinner was led with a toast to the lassies and response, which up-and-coming public speaker Ned and our poet-in-residence Marsha expertly performed. Then came the ‘Address to the Haggis’, delivered in some rather interesting Scottish accents. When we were finally allowed to eat, there were mixed reactions to the food, although many people discovered the deliciousness of the beautiful haggis. Dinner was finished, cleaning was done, and washing up was completed. As we all chilled in the common room the lights suddenly switched off and a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ accompanied cake and candles being carried into the room. I blew out the candles and everyone enjoyed the cake on what will be a very memorable birthday for me.”

Everyone (well, nearly everyone!) enjoyed the Burns’ Night dinner

On Sunday morning we woke to find the surrounding hills blanketed in a layer of snow, a rare sight for us snow-deprived Londoners. We had breakfast and quickly cleaned up the hostel ready for our departure. Of course, on the day we weren’t hiking, we now had perfect visibility and beautiful sunshine, in contrast to yesterday’s fog and hail.

We all found the snow a bit of a novelty!

Once all the kit was sufficiently packed into the minibuses, the excess biscuits distributed, and the debris of 35 Explorers cleared away, we hit the road again and drove over to York, where we’d be spending the majority of the day. Lawrence has written about what we got up to there:

“After leaving the hostel that morning, we took a short drive to York. Arriving at the National Railway Museum shortly after, it was hard to contain the bubbly excitement of Tom, who took great pleasure in showing us around his second home (#tomlovestrains). Joking aside, we all enjoyed walking between the vast trains, as well as looking at all the railway memorabilia collected by the museum. Having spent a while admiring, we ate a quick lunch, before heading for the city centre.

The chance to pose with a bear was too great to pass up…

Here the fiendish Explorers and Leaders were let loose into York, vigorously cuddling teddy bears, somersaulting down streets and in one case taking an unintentional shower of hot chocolate. Once our time was up, we headed back to the meeting point near the impressive Minster, and walked back to the minibuses ready for the long drive back to Scout Park.”

Thanks to Tom for organising such a great camp!

Leaders have a Wales of a time

It would be unfair of us to put Explorers through their paces on DofE expeditions if we didn’t occasionally prove that we too could pass muster. Last weekend the Leaders headed to Llangollen in North Wales for some exciting white water in Canadian Canoes.

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The River Dee early on Saturday morning was cold – but we had it to ourselves!

We met at the Dockland Scout Project where we collected the 8th Holborn‘s Canoes, which they had kindly leant to us for the weekend. It was a late start and we eventually arrived at Abbey Farm in Llangollen at 1am. We pitched tents and crashed out, for it was to be an early start.

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The river soon woke up with a series of Grade 1 and 2 rapids

The next morning we drove to Glyndyfrdwy – bonus points for being able to pronounce it! – and put into the River Dee under the old bridge. This section of the Dee (the Upper Dee) is quiet and we saw no one else all morning.

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It is important to inspect unfamiliar rapids before running. This can be done from the boat or from the bank.

We paddled down a beautiful series of Grade 1 and 2 rapids which took us all the way to Horseshoe Falls – a huge horseshoe-shaped weir. After careful inspection we ran it on the left where a set of rocky steps led us down into the pool below.

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We ran the weir hard left where the high water meant a chute had opened up, avoiding the main drop.

We had a chilly but peaceful lunch below the weir and were back on the water in no time. Next up was the infamous Serpent’s Tail, which is a Grade 3, or 4 in high water, and we definitely were not running that (not in someone else’s boats, at any rate!) and we lined the canoes down, before continuing our journey.

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More rapids below Horseshoe Falls followed

We had fun in the ‘tombstones’ area by the Mill in Llangollen where Donald was waiting for us with the minibus. A much-needed hot chocolate was had in the cafe before we returned to camp for dinner (curry!) and a pint in the campsite bar.

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You can’t hear shouts on the river, so paddlers use hand signals. Here Jaye is signalling to Alex to stay where he is.

The next day we packed up camp and drove to Bala lake, or Llyn Tegid, to give it it’s Welsh name. We paddled hard up the lake against the wind before crossing to the other side and having lunch.

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Bala Lake/ Llyn Tegid

After lunch we rigged sails using poles and tarps and whizzed down the lake. What had taken us three hours to paddle up took 20 minutes to get down!

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By rafting two canoes you can make a very stable rig from which to hoist a sail

Once again Donald was waiting at the finish point and had lit a fire and was cooking sausages! The warming fire inspired Marlon and Jaye to lose the drysuits and have a dip in the freezing lake to shake out the cobwebs!

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Sailing!

It was the perfect way to finish a weekend of canoeing – sausages on the fire, watching the sunset. You couldn’t plan it!

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